Let’s be honest, talking to your kids about identity theft isn’t probably top of your list. There’s a long list of topics to cover off when you are a parent. But if you take a minute to picture someone stealing your child’s identity or using their personal information to take out a loan for a shiny new car then you’ll probably want to move it closer to the top of your parenting to-do list!

What Is Identity Theft?

Identity theft occurs when a person’s personal identifying information is used without their permission, usually to commit fraud by making unauthorised purchases or transactions. Identity theft can happen in many ways, but its victims are usually left with significant damage to their finances, credit score, and even their mental health.

Most people associate identity theft with data breaches – think Optus, Latitude Financial and Medibank – however, there are many more ways that scammers can get their hands on your personal identifying details. They can use ‘phishing’ emails to get information from you, do a deep dive on your social media accounts to find identifying information in posts or photos, hack public Wi-Fi to access any information you share or simply, steal your wallet or go through your trash!!

How Big An Issue Is It Really?

In short, it’s a big problem – for both individuals and organisations. And here are the statistics:

  • 76,000 cybercrime reports were made in the 2021/22 financial year, an increase of nearly 13% from the previous year, according to The Annual Cyber Threat Report by The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC).
  • A recent study by The Australian Cybercrime Survey showed that 31% of respondents had experienced identity crime in their lifetime and 20% within the previous 12 months. Just under half of the victims reported that they had noticed suspicious transactions on their bank statements. Although 25% of respondents couldn’t identify how their information was stolen, 16% attributed it to the hacking of a computer or device.
  • 10 million Australians had their personal details stolen in the Optus data breach in September 2022.
  • 7 million Australians also had personal data stolen in the Medibank data breach in October 2022.
  • 14 million Australians had their personal information stolen in the Latitude Financial data breach in March 2023.

How Do You Know If You’re a Victim?

One of the biggest issues with identity theft is that you often don’t immediately know that you’re a victim. In some cases, it might take weeks before you realise that something is awry which unfortunately, gives the thief a lot of time to wreak havoc! Some of the signs that something might be wrong include:

  • Unfamiliar charges to your bank account
  • Calls and texts about products or services that you’ve never used
  • You’re denied credit
  • Strange emails in your inbox
  • Not receiving expected mail
  • Unexpected calls or letters from debt collectors

What To Do If You Think You’re a Victim

The key here is to act as soon as you believe you are affected. Don’t stress that there has been a delay in taking action – just take action now! Here’s what you need to do:

1. Call Your Bank

Your first call should be to your bank so they can block the affected account. The aim here is to prevent the scammer from taking any more money. Also remember to block any cards that are linked to this account, either credit or debit.

2. Change Your Passwords

If your identity has been stolen then it’s highly likely that the scammer knows your passwords so change the passwords for the affected accounts straight away!! And if you have used this same password on any other accounts then change these also. If you can’t remember, you can always reset the passwords on key accounts just to be safe.

3. Report It

It may feel like a waste of time reporting your identity theft, but it is an important step, particularly as your report becomes a formal record – evidence you may need down the track. It may also prevent others from becoming victims by helping authorities identify patterns and hopefully, perpetrators.  If you think your personal identifying information has been used, report it to the Australian authorities at ReportCyber.

4. Make a Plan

It’s likely you’re feeling pretty overwhelmed at what to do next to limit the damage from your identity theft – and understandably so! Why not make a contract with IDCARE? It’s a free service dedicated to assisting victims of identity theft – both individuals and organisations – in Australia and New Zealand.

How Do We Talk To Our Kids About It?

If there is one thing I have learned in my 20+ years of parenting, it is this. If you want to get your kids ‘onboard’ with an idea or a plan, you need to take the time to explain the ‘why’. There is absolutely no point in asking or telling them to do something without such an explanation. It is also imperative that you don’t lecture them. And the final ingredient? Some compelling statistics or research – ideally with a diagram – my boys always respond well to a visual!

So, if you haven’t yet had the identity theft chat with your kids then I recommend not delaying it any further. And here’s how I’d approach it.

Firstly, ensure you are familiar with the issue. If you understand everything I’ve detailed above then you’re in good shape.

Secondly, arm yourself with relevant statistics. Check out the ones I have included above. Why not supplement this with a few relevant news stories that may resonate with them? This is your ‘why’.

Thirdly, focus on prevention. This needs to be the key focus. But don’t badger or lecture them. Perhaps tell them what you will be doing to minimise the risk – see below for your key ‘hot tips’ – you’re welcome!

What You Can Do To Manage Identity Theft?

There are a few key things that you can today that will both minimise your risk of becoming a victim and the consequences if you happen to be caught up in a large data breach.

1. Passwords

Managing passwords for your online accounts is one of the best risk management strategies for identity theft. I know it’s tedious, but I recommend creating a unique and complex 10+ digit password for each of your online accounts. Tricky passwords make it harder for someone to get access to your account. And, if you use the same log-in details for each of your online accounts – and your details are either leaked in a data breach or stolen – then you could be in a world of pain. So, take the time to get your passwords sorted out.

2. Think Before You Post

Sharing private information about your life on social media makes it much easier for a scammer to steal your identity. Pet names, holiday destination and even special dates can provide clues for passwords. So, lock your social media profiles down and ensure your privacy settings are on.

3. Be Proactive – Monitor Your Identity Online

Imagine how good it would be if you could be alerted when your personal identifying information was found on the Dark Web? Well, this is now a reality! McAfee’s latest security offering entitled McAfee+ will not only protect you against threats but provide 24/7 monitoring of your personal details so it can alert you if your information is found on the Dark Web. And if your details are found, then advice and help may also be provided to remedy the situation. How good!!

4. Using Public Computers and Wi-Fi With Caution

Ensuring you always log out of a shared computer is an essential way of keeping prying eyes away from your personal identifying information. And always be super careful with public Wi-Fi. I only use it if I am desperate and I never conduct any financial transactions, ever! Cybercriminals can ‘snoop’ on public Wi-Fi to see what’s being shared, they can stage ‘Man in The Middle Attacks’ where they eavesdrop on your activity, or they can lure you to use their trustworthy sounding Wi-Fi network – designed purely to extract your private information!

5. Monitor Your Bank Accounts

Why not make a habit of regularly checking your bank accounts? And if you find anything that doesn’t look right contact your bank immediately to clarify. It’s always best to know if there is a problem so you can address it right away.

With so many Aussies affected by data breaches and identity theft, it’s essential that our kids are armed with good information so they can protect themselves as best as possible. Why not use your next family dinner to workshop this issue with them?

Till Next Time

Stay Safe Online


Introducing McAfee+

Identity theft protection and privacy for your digital life

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Chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, snickerdoodle: Cybercriminals have a sweet tooth just like you. But their favorite type of cookie is of the browser variety.

Browser cookies – often just referred to as cookies – track your comings and goings on websites. And when a cyber thief gets their mitts on your browser cookies, it can open all kinds of doors into your online accounts.

The first step to protecting your devices and online privacy from criminals is to understand their schemes. Here are the key terms you need to know about cookie theft plus how to keep malicious software off your devices.

Key Cookie Theft Terms You Should Know

Cookie theft can happen to anyone. Knowing the basics of this cyberscheme may help you better protect your online life:

  • Browser cookie. A small collection of data your internet browser stores every time you visit a website. When your browser stores this data, it makes it quicker for you to log back into a website or for a website to customize its suggestions for you the next time you visit.
  • Cache. Like a mouse scurrying away a pile of sweet treats, your device hoards – or caches – all the cookies you gather from websites you visit. Your cache of cookies will grow continually until you clear it out. If your cache grows too large, it could slow down your device, affect performance, or tax your battery power.
  • Multifactor authentication. MFA is a way to log in to an online account that requires additional forms of identification beyond a username and password. It could require biometric identification (like a face or fingerprint scan), a security question, or a one-time code.

How and Why Do Criminals Steal Browser Cookies?

Cookies thieves are generally motivated by the financial gains of breaking into people’s online accounts. Banking, social media, and online shopping accounts are full of valuable personal and financial details that a cybercriminal can either sell on the dark web or use to impersonate you and steal your identity.

Malware is generally the vehicle cybercriminals use to steal cookies. Once the malicious software gets onto a device, the malware is trained to copy a new cookie’s data and send it to the cybercriminal. Then, from their own machine, the cybercriminal can input that data and start a new session with the target’s stolen data.

There was a stretch of a few years where cookie thieves targeted high-profile YouTube influencers with malware spread through fake collaboration deals and crypto scams. The criminals’ goal was to steal cookies to sneak into the backend of the YouTube accounts to change passwords, recovery emails and phone numbers, and bypass two-factor authentication to lock the influencers out of their accounts.1

But you don’t have to have a valuable social media account to draw the eye of a cybercriminal. “Operation Cookie Monster” dismantled an online forum that sold stolen login information for millions of online accounts gained through cookie theft.2

Best Practices for Secure Browsing

To keep your internet cookies out of the hands of criminals, it’s essential to practice safe browsing habits. These four tips will go a long way toward keeping your accounts out of the reach of cookie thieves and your devices free from malicious software.

  1. Set up MFA. MFA may seem like it’ll slow down your login process, but really, the extra seconds it takes are well worth it. Most people have their phone within arm’s reach throughout the day, so a texted, emailed, or authentication app-generated code is easy enough to access. Just remember that a reputable company will never ask you for one-time codes, so these codes are for your eyes only. MFA makes it extremely difficult for a criminal to log into your accounts, even when they have your password and username. Without the unique code, a bad actor is locked out.
  2. Watch out for phishing attempts and risky websites. Cookie-stealing malware often hops onto innocent devices through either phishing lures or through visiting untrustworthy sites. Make sure to carefully read every text, email, and social media direct message. With the help of AI content generation tools like ChatGPT, phishers’ messages are more believable than they were years ago. Be especially diligent about clicking on links that may take you to risky sites or download malicious files onto your device.
  3. Clear your cache regularly. Make it a habit to clear your cache and browsing history often. This is a great practice to optimize the performance of your device. Plus, in the case that a cybercriminal does install cookie-stealing malware on your device, if you store hardly any cookies on your device, the thief will have little valuable information to pilfer.
  4. Use a password manager. While a password manager won’t protect your device from cookie-stealing malware, it will lessen your dependence upon storing valuable cookies. It’s convenient to already have your usernames and passwords auto-populate; however, if your device falls into the wrong hands these shortcuts could spell trouble for your privacy. A password manager is a vault for all your login information for your dozens of online accounts. All you need to do is input one master password, and from there, the password manager will autofill your logins. It’s just as quick and convenient, but infinitely more secure.

Lock Up Your Cookie Jar

McAfee+ is an excellent partner to help you secure your devices and digital life. McAfee+ includes a safe browsing tool to alert you to suspicious websites, a password manager, identity monitoring, and more.

The next time you enjoy a cookie, spare a moment to think of cookies of the digital flavor: clear your cache if you haven’t in awhile, doublecheck your devices and online accounts for suspicious activity, and savor the sweetness of your digital privacy!

1The Hacker News, “Hackers Stealing Browser Cookies to Hijack High-Profile YouTube Accounts”

2CNN, “‘Operation Cookie Monster:’ FBI seizes popular cybercrime forum used for large-scale identity theft”

Introducing McAfee+

Identity theft protection and privacy for your digital life

#Cookie #Theft #Cybercriminals #Accounts